The Zeigarnik Effect

March 18, 2021

Do you ever wake in the middle of the night plagued by tasks you haven’t quite finished?

That DIY project you started.

The piece of work you didn’t quite get over the line.

Or even perhaps a Netflix series you stopped part way through.

If yes – there’s a reason for it. Simply put, humans find it easier to remember unfinished tasks than completed ones.  

In a series of experiments, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, asked participants to complete a variety of simple activities. Half of the participants were interrupted part way through, the others were given the time they needed to finish. Through her research she discovered that those who had their work interrupted were twice as likely to remember specifics about what they had been doing than those who had actually completed the tasks. 

Which helps explain why we have a tendency to keep circling back to things that we’ve already started. If we leave tasks unfinished we will be harassed by thoughts about them until we do.

So how can you use this to your advantage?

More than an irritating tick, the Zeigarnik Effect can actually be used as a simple procrastination hack. If you’re struggling to work on a task because it feels overwhelming simply commit to doing the very first step, no matter how insignificant it seems. In doing so you will open a potent loop and find your thoughts keep returning to the task until it is completed.

Want to know more – take a look a this video.

Got a question? Want to chat? You can contact me here.

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